Sunday, April 17, 2011

The United States of Austerity?

In the 1950s, America enjoyed a healthy middle class that kept the economy moving. People were buying cars, those new-fangled TV sets and other items of "modern technology."  They were buying homes with white picket fences and having families.

Not coincidentally, the unions were strong then, too. They made sure that the workers were treated decently, got a fair shake, and made a sustainable wage that allowed them to buy things like houses, cars and TVs. This is what kept the economy rolling.

Then, as time passed, the companies started cutting back a little here and a little there. Maybe it was a smaller wage. Maybe it was a higher cost to a benefit or a change to overtime rules. The unions, grown complacent with the long string of successes, readily made the concessions, figuring it wouldn't really hurt, since everything was going so well. Right?

Over the years, the unions were gradually weakened, either by concessions or by changes in the law or non-union shops, much like a river eats away at its banks.  Now we find ourselves with only a small part of the population still in unions.  Wages are stagnant or even getting cut, cost of benefits such as health care have been allowed to skyrocket.

Unsurprisingly, we also find that the middle class has shrunk in a similar manner. And with the shrinking of the middle class comes the economy on the teeter of collapse. Progressives want to get the economy going again by having the rich and the companies start to carry their fair share of the load by having some of the money they're hoarding flow back into the economy. Conservatives scream like stuck pigs at the very notion and instead demand that we through the poor, the elderly and the disabled to the proverbial wolves, or in other words, austerity.

This insidious, irresponsible and unethical approach has already been creeping into our great nation.  We have seen in Colorado Springs (ironically, Scott Walker's hometown - well, maybe not so ironically) the first results of this "I've got mine, screw you" mentality:
This tax-averse city is about to learn what it looks and feels like when budget cuts slash services most Americans consider part of the urban fabric.
More than a third of the streetlights in Colorado Springs will go dark Monday. The police helicopters are for sale on the Internet. The city is dumping firefighting jobs, a vice team, burglary investigators, beat cops — dozens of police and fire positions will go unfilled.
The parks department removed trash cans last week, replacing them with signs urging users to pack out their own litter.
Neighbors are encouraged to bring their own lawn mowers to local green spaces, because parks workers will mow them only once every two weeks. If that.
Water cutbacks mean most parks will be dead, brown turf by July; the flower and fertilizer budget is zero.
City recreation centers, indoor and outdoor pools, and a handful of museums will close for good March 31 unless they find private funding to stay open. Buses no longer run on evenings and weekends. The city won't pay for any street paving, relying instead on a regional authority that can meet only about 10 percent of the need.
And that was from more than a year ago! I can't imagine what it's like now.  And they're not the only ones. Michigan's quality of life is going down faster than Scott Walker's popularity ratings.

In Flint, Michigan, a city with more than 100,000 people, they have one of the highest murder rates in the country, yet they can only find the money to pay for one third of their police force. On a Saturday night, there might be only six patrol officers working. And if they arrest someone, they can't even hold them, unless it's for weapons or murder, in which case they go to the county jail.

As bad a shape that Flint is in, it is a garden center compared to Benton Harbor, Michigan.  Benton Harbor is the first victim of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder's new law allowing the state to disregard all elections and the Constitution by declaring financial martial law. As we have seen for the past 62 days in Wisconsin, the good people are in an uproar over this egregious stripping of their rights.  There are numerous complaints about this being a union-busting measure.  (In fact, the "controller" for the Detroit Public School System has already stated he will use this law to hammer the unions there.)  This is very well probably true, but I can't help but note that coincidentally, or maybe not so coincidentally, the population of Benton Harbor happens to be more than 92% African American, making me wonder if this could also be the rebirth of Jim Crow.

Our future, if these austerity measures are allowed to continue, could hold even more unimaginable terrors that are already occurring overseas.  Ireland, which put into place their own austerity measures, are having the predictable results of people losing everything, including hope:
THERE IS A “strong link” between Ireland’s rising rate of suicide and the economic problems the country is facing, according to the Minister for Health Mary Harney.

Harney said that the age-group of people dying by suicide has changed, with more older people who are experiencing financial problems now taking their own lives.

She said:
Clearly there has to be a strong link between our economic circumstances and suicide.
Suicide as we know has increased dramatically over the past 12 months, it is up 25 per cent, which is incredible. The profile of those dying by suicide is also changing.&
Ironically, these "cost saving" austerity measures is requiring Ireland to spend millions of Euros on suicide prevention programs. Yet, despite these drastic actions, things are no better there, but are predictably worse.

The course that the Republicans, under the heavy influence of their Big Business supporters, would lead us is clear. It is also clearly unacceptable.  If they want us all to share the pain, it is damn well beyond time for those that can best afford to do some sharing start doing so.

And if our current leaders are unable or unwilling to do the proper thing, it is up to us to remove them and elect those that will, with all due haste.


  1. Thank you, I can't read it all but I have a couple of "sentinel" post, bloggers I read to figure out what is coming in on are one of them

  2. If they want us all to share the pain, it is damn well beyond time for those that can best afford to do some sharing start doing so.

    Good thought, Capper. But this is, after all, the party that cut taxes on the rich while our country is fighting two wars that we're talking about here.

  3. I am amused; it seems you feign to be one of America's middle class. I suspect your joint income and benefits far exceed that dividing line. And aren't you the one always zipping off to the castle in the north woods?

    You've lost yourself in the process of becoming a good union hack. Let me know if we need to take up a collection any time soon.

  4. Let's see. I've been up north only once since Christmas. My salary has been cut 10% by furlough. Only reason it's not more is because the Republicans can't seem to follow the law very well.

    My wife's salary has been cut by almost have, going from full time to part-time minimum wages. Plus higher costs for everything...No, it's safe to say we're not doing as well as you'd imagine.

    But then again, empathy is a distinct deficiency in conservatives, especially well-to-do ones.

  5. May I also point out that I do not see anything "amusing" about escalating suicide rates, lack of law enforcement, or a non-existent quality of life. But then again, I know that there is more to life than money.

  6. I am amused; it seems you feign to be one of America's middle class. I suspect your joint income and benefits far exceed that dividing line. And aren't you the one always zipping off to the castle in the north woods?

    And here we go with the "everyone is rich" defense. Having a place up north now qualifies you for the top 1%? Really? In that case, probably 1/3 of Wisconsinites are filthy rich and don't even know it! Stop the presses!

    Also, Cindy, since you felt the urge to go ad hominem and accuse Capper of being a "union hack," I feel no remorse whatsoever in responding in kind when I tell you that your blog's name is still a running joke to people who actually have a working knowledge of what the word "fairly" actually means. Your habit of responding to criticism from the left with gross stereotyping ("You liberals always do this or that") and personal insults* would be hilarious for its failure to carry any rhetorical water if it weren't simultaneously pathetic and indicative of a mind unwilling or unable to actually engage in constructive debate. I would be happy to have such a debate, but in the meantime, I will continue to mock, and enjoy myself in doing so.

    *I use insult here to come to the defense of a colleague I feel has been wronged, rather than to respond to a criticism of my own position. See the difference?

  7. Cindy,

    Read the JS' John Schmid's latest on the engine of U.S. meritocracy, the Patent Office. Unregulated monopolies and oligopolies are the enemies of capitalism. They block innovation and stifle competition.